parent multitasking trying to keep kids entertained and studying

Tips for Handling Teacher Burnout

Joe Wolf Education

Teacher burnout is as real as your favorite troublemaker student’s perfect attendance record.

Today, burnout’s even more common. You know you’re overworked, you know grading 175 papers in two days is what we might call “long-term unmanageable.” You know the troubles that exist within your school and its larger district. And you work hard anyway because you care. So before we say anything else – thank you for being an educator. Thank you for the seemingly insurmountable task of teaching 175 kids each day, let alone doing it virtually.

Now let’s tackle burnout together.

What is Teacher Burnout?

Ever feel like giving up on your profession entirely? Spoiler alert: You’re probably burned out.

The sad truth(s) about the teaching profession is that ever-shifting professional demands, lack of concern from the higher-ups when it comes to class sizes, and the…challenging…makeup of Generation Z (AKA student behavior nightmares) make for free tickets aboard the Chronic Teacher Stress Express. Lessons become tiresome, basic duties put on the backburner, and worst – personal health falters.

Take. Care. Of. Yourself. It’s not easy, especially in a profession that demands sacrifice, devotion, and infallibility, the latter being a teacher’s curse. I’m fine. Emotions? No thanks. I won’t break. I can’t break. There are 175 young human beings counting on me.

Let’s be honest – to your kids, you’re their teacher. The idea that you might have a life outside of the confines of your classroom is ludicrous. They expect you to be on all the time. No excuses. Which is why teacher burnout is serious; and with Covid-19 still attacking the world, teachers have had to throw TNT atop engaging classroom instruction and press the red button.

Virtual teaching’s a whole new ball game.

Remote Burnout, Covid-19, and Zoom: Teachers Under Pressure

teacher holding school supplies, wearing a mask, and stressed out

There’s a pretty transparent amount of bad that’s come from Covid-19. However, in the spirit of positivity, it’s fair to say that a vast wave of understanding is coursing through our communities when it comes to what teaching is and the amount of effort it takes.

Parents are more involved because the stakes have changed. Johnny is learning from the sanctity of his own home. Samantha’s attending a tutoring session on her computer.

Everyone is fatigued.

Chances are your lessons are typically designed with multiple modes of learning in mind. You craft intricate activities that appeal to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. Enter: Zoom, which laughs in your face because, yeah, good luck with those creative pursuits.

Meanwhile, our kids are suffering too. “Zoom fatigue” floats about, with no one capable of containing it. We’re simply not wired to stare at screens for hours and, usually when we do so, it’s of our own accord. Eight straight hours of video games? Okay.

You’re trying to teach a group of digital squares, maintaining focus on each one because that’s who you are. A good educator. Your kids are trying to focus on what you’re saying, but there’s also a ton of different faces to look at.

It’s no surprise that Zoom meetings burn people out. In education, teachers remain under extreme pressure to “do their jobs” in an environment that’s entirely unconducive to success and morale. Students are expected to cope with massive changes in the way they learn. And their engagement in the learning process? Bye bye. Hello, detachment.

What to do? In a world marred by Covid-19, we must learn to spot symptoms of burnout so that they can be remedied before things get worse.

What are the Signs of Burnout?

stressed out teacher making a face in classroom

When burned out, teachers feel everything from total misery to absolute fatigue. Common symptoms can also mimic those of other conditions. Take our short quiz now to see if you might be suffering from teacher burnout.

  1. Are you tired before you even “get” to work?
  2. Do you have trouble sleeping at night?
  3. Have you noticed any unexplainable weight gain or loss? 
  4. Does your appetite feel different from what it usually is?
  5. Do you have trouble concentrating on normal tasks?
  6. Have you felt anxious at all in the past few days or weeks?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, there’s evidence you might be on the cusp of burnout or wading through its deep end. What’s important now is to recognize and accept the facts, that way you can take steps toward recovering before things get worse.

Unchecked burnout can evolve into a severe form of depression. In fact, most of burnout’s symptoms are indicative of depression to begin with, making it crucial to identify the fatigue early and tackle it any way you can.

There’s no simple fix, which is why we’ve put together several tips on how to navigate total teacher burnout.

10 Tips for Tackling Teacher Burnout

1. Rebuild your routine

a cup of coffee, pen, and a note with a message

Sometimes we like to live by routine as if it’s a creed, while other times we pledge to embrace spontaneity.

In the virtual landscape, there’s a case to be made for steadfast adherence to a routine. If yours has slipped, look for ways to rebuild. Have you stopped waking up at 5:30 a.m. to workout? It might be hard (even more so when you live somewhere where winter exists), but consider returning to the norm.

Or, try something different. Having a routine before you step into your virtual classroom can put you in a healthier teaching headspace.

2. Optimize your at-home work station

Similarly, make sure you have an optimal workspace. Teaching from your kitchen table? Not a good idea. Set yourself up for success. Part of this is being in an environment that caters toward the challenging job you have.

Work at a desk. Surround yourself with art or decorations. Organize your materials in a way that improves your workflow instead of impeding it. Small changes make a big difference.

3. Lean into parental collaboration

two parents helping their daughter with homework

Collaborating with parents is more important today than ever before. It’s simply impossible for you to do everything you need to do without the help of your students’ home support system.

Look for ways to include parents in the learning process. Lots of teachers have seen emails piling up over the duration of the pandemic. However, all communication doesn’t have to revolve around assignments.

Think about how you can alert parents about positive things their students are doing. Additionally, reminder emails that detail upcoming deadlines or streamline information will be much appreciated and foster positive collaboration.

Parents need you and you need them. We’re all in this together, and everyone’s maximum-level stressed right now. Empathy goes a long way in settling down anxious parents.

4. Practice self-care

We said it before and we’ll say it again: Take. Care. Of. Yourself. Binging McDonalds, treating your rigid workout schedule as optional, and showering once a week won’t help you.

Plus, how can you help students if you aren’t functioning at a high level? Eat healthy, get enough sleep, and find some sort of exercise regimen that works for you. Even if it’s just a (pandemic-friendly) walk around the block, staying active pays dividends on your personal well-being and can help reduce anxiety and emotional exhaustion.

5. Plan virtual activities with colleagues

We spend way too much time perceiving ourselves to be too busy for “fun” or anything unrelated to work. Whether it’s a virtual happy hour, collective teacher venting session, or group lesson planning, find time to talk with those experiencing the same ups and downs as yourself.

This is also imperative for teaching teams that have new teachers onboard. If you’re a department head or teaching team leader, virtual meetups are a necessity for check-ins and keeping spirits high. Take care of your first-year teachers so that cynicism can’t breach the gates.

6. Do what’s needed, not what you think is necessary

This one’s really important and incredibly difficult for the selfless teacher. In order to combat burnout in our virtual teaching world, you have to set boundaries.

As a passionate educator, you’ll do whatever you need to do to help your kids. Now, though, comes the ultimate test. Do what’s needed, and do that well. But don’t feel like you have to do what you think is necessary. As much as you care, and as much as your actions are appreciated, they’re not always pertinent in this hectic environment.

The kids will be okay if you don’t hand their virtual essays back within 24 hours. They’ll survive if you have to adjust lesson plans to cover two weeks instead of one. Your drive as a teacher is formidable and impressive, but it shouldn’t result in your destruction during the school year.

7. Say “no”

It boils down to saying “no” when you have to. Teachers, students, staff, and school leaders alike are adjusting to new modes of instruction and learning in real-time. There wasn’t a trial period. There was no “If you don’t like doing this, we can stop.”

You have a grasp on what’s working and what’s not. You’re privy to what can be fixed and what can’t. And you understand what’s feasible in a day’s work and what’s unattainable. 

It’s okay to say “no” when something won’t work, can’t be fixed, and/or is not feasible. 

8. Take a mental health day

On the brink of total collapse? Take a mental health day. Plenty of teachers argue for this at least once per quarter. There’s no shame, there’s no defeat…if you’re feeling exhausted, take a day off and refer to Tip No. 4 in order to help mitigate chronic stress. 

9. Try something new with your lessons

If things are falling flat in your virtual classroom, try something new. Because virtual learning is still being figured out, you’re in a unique place as an educator in that experimentation might be okay.

Sure, it all depends on your school and your district’s plan. Some schools champion teacher autonomy, while others try to fit you inside of a box. But you are the Zen master of your classroom. If you think of something new, try it. And who knows, that influx of creativity might just be the spark you need to break out of burnout prison.  

10. Pursue your passion…outside of teaching

We know you’re passionate about teaching, educator. Which is exactly why you should also explore a passion outside of the field. Do you cook? Paint? Play music? Game? Craft? Write? Run? Read? Do so. It’s just as much a part of your identity as being a teacher. 

How Can STEM Kits Help with Teacher Burnout?

teachers learn to solder

Thimble’s here to help ease the burden of online education. We advocate for hands-on STEM learning, offering subscription boxes and virtual lessons for kids at home.

Promoting these resources is a great way to help your students learn “outside” of the classroom. Thimble’s many lessons have been designed specifically for virtual learning, and our kits offer students the hands-on experiences they crave. 

Whether introduced in a virtual pandemic pod, microschool, or via one-one-one tutoring, Thimble’s tools are here to help make the lives of our world’s educators easier, and the lives of our world’s students fun and educational. 

A Final Note on Teacher Burnout

Never be afraid to ask for help. Often, we’re too proud or too confident that we can figure things out on our own. That’s not always the case, and the pandemic’s bolded, highlighted, and underlined this notion.

If you’re entering burnout mode, recognize the warning signs and act today. Talk to loved ones and friends. Follow some or all of our burnout tips. We’re here for you, just like you’re there for countless students each and every day. Feel like asking us something? Reach out anytime